July 27, 2012
When presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives in Israel Saturday and travels to occupied East Jerusalem to see the holy sites there he will be entering a city I am no longer allowed to visit – privately or as a medical doctor or as a presidential candidate. He somehow possesses more rights to the city than I do despite the fact that I was born in Jerusalem and worked as a medical doctor in Makassed hospital for several years. During my presidential campaign I was arrested and deported four times for entering the city to meet Palestinian voters.
My enforced absence pains me enormously. And I believe that my inability to enter -- and that of hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians -- points to the fast-approaching demise of the two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his international friends are simply not interested in addressing the dispossession and absence of rights endured by Palestinians.
The demise of the two-state solution is right there with climate change: It’s staring us all in the face. But politicians are either too incompetent to see it, too scared to address it, or too content with a reality that benefits Jewish settlers and harms Palestinians because it works to their political advantage.
Palestinian politicians and civil society leaders have signaled the impending impossibility of two states for several years. Yet too many international observers regard us as the boy who cried wolf. I do not know precisely when a younger generation of Palestinians will decide that two states is an outdated pipe dream of their parents’ generation, nor when Fatah officials will reach the same conclusion. But I do suspect that Israeli moderates and American officials will one day look back at this time period and wonder why Israeli leaders did not seize the moment, freeze settlement activity, and strike a deal with the Palestinian people. Hubris and a zealot’s certainty are likely causes of the Israeli leadership’s inability to see with clear eyes what should be done.
The settler population in the West Bank has grown by 18 percent in Netanyahu's three-plus years in office. Israel's hold on the West Bank is increasing and the growing population ensures that no Israeli leader would dare to abide by international law and insist that settlers move out. Recently, the Levy Commission determined that there is not even an occupation of the West Bank, though Israeli, American, and international officials have recognized its reality for years. Netanyahu is reportedly poised to embrace the Commission's findings.
Levy is, of course, wrong in his legal reasoning. But far more important is what he leaves unsaid. What will be the rights of Palestinians in a West Bank no longer regarded as occupied? Will we be afforded full voting rights or subjected to a system of apartheid?
I fear the latter. In introducing a 166-page report in December 2010, "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, stated, "Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits. While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes."
The Palestinian reality has only deteriorated since then with the Israeli Knesset taking up discriminatory legislation. A New York Times editorial recently noted that "activists say, more than 25 bills have been proposed or passed by the Parliament to limit freedom of speech and of the press; penalize, defund or investigate nongovernmental groups; restrict judicial independence; and trample minority rights." When Israel sneezes, or gets a bad flu on the rights front, one can be certain that the reality in occupied Palestinian territory is even more dire.
How else can we describe this week’s report that Israel intends to demolish eight Palestinian villages in the West Bank and force the inhabitants to live elsewhere? This is surely a form of ethnic cleansing as it makes way for the Israeli military and perhaps later for settlers to seize land Palestinians have tended for centuries. The proposed demolition is precisely why nonviolent Palestinian and international activists are pressing for divestment from Caterpillar. The company’s equipment is already being used against individual Palestinian homes, but more recently Israel has begun to use it to demolish whole communities.
President Barack Obama’s increasing reticence on Palestinian rights suggests that Israel’s fiercest right-wing advocates have carried the day with the President. He’s now locked in a battle with Romney to prove his hardline, pro-Israel bona fides. And he’s feeling the heat when Romney states, "Well, I think by and large you can just look at the things the president’s done and do the opposite. I mean, you know, you consider his first address to the United Nations, he castigated Israel for building settlements."
President Obama was right to criticize such law-breaking. It showed wisdom and responsibility and the realization that settlement expansion works against a two-state solution. But Obama’s recent silence and Romney’s seemingly neo-conservative embrace of Israeli expansionism suggest that the prospect of a two-state solution will end during one administration or the other.
If President Obama and Gov. Romney expect Palestinians will meekly accept apartheid then they are quite wrong. A battle for equal rights is looming in the near future because of the arrogance of Israeli and American leaders who are proving incapable of understanding the discriminatory conditions they are creating with the expansion of settlements and ongoing disregard for Palestinian rights.
Barghouthi, a doctor and member of the Palestinian Parliament, is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party.